Friday, February 28, 2014

STAAR Season: Make Fill-in-the-Dot Fun!

While the state and the nation continue to challenge teachers to promote higher level thinking, use project-based learning, and integrate technology into instruction, the mandated tests for measuring student achievement remain unchanged. So, the challenge for teachers is double-edged: make all these great changes to our instructional methodology without causing a ripple in the testing continuum! ARGH!!!

So, here is a great idea from a high school Algebra teacher to keep the fun in this fill-in-the-dot world!
She created STAAR warm-up questions and inserted QR codes that contain hints or definitions to help the students along. These codes not only help students with content, but they add an element of technology fun to this usually mundane format at the same time. Way to go for creative thinking, Ms. Traughber!!

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Think in Pictures with Pic Collage

Need a new way for students to experience and learn vocabulary words? Let the students think in pictures! There are many apps that can do the job, but here are two great work samples from 1st graders created in Pic Collage using Google search. "A picture is worth a thousand words!"

Monday, February 24, 2014

Educator Dress Code: Pants Now Required!

There is a new dress code for all 21st century educators: Pants are now required!
In short...there is no more "flying by the seat of your pants". Please keep them on at all times!

Yes, this may be a little tongue-in-cheek, but you know what I am talking about. We all have either known, currently work with, or may even describe ourselves as this kind of educator. There are many expressions that these educators use when describing their approach to teaching:
  • flying by the seat of my pants
  • spur of the moment
  • winging it
  • off the cuff
  • playing it by ear
  • improvising
  • off the top of my head
  • thinking on my feet
This philosophy or strategy for educating our 21st century learners can no longer fly! This doesn't mean that great things can't happen this way, but there is now much more room for failure when this is an educator's primary modus operandi.

For example, even if a teacher uses technology only at the substitution level in their classroom, the following issues may arise:
  • is the technology/equipment available?
  • have websites been tested on the school's filter on a student access level?
  • has the material been vetted for school viewing?
  • is the app even on the device to be used?
  • are any updates needed to run the specific site or app (Java anyone?)?
  • does the tech support team know of a more appropriate/better tool or site to use 
Now, let's say that we moved past substitution and actually delved into the deeper, processing layers of instruction. This demands even more from educators:
  • what TEKS will be covered in this PBL unit?
  • what is the driving question? (Wow, these things can be really difficult to write!)
  • what elements should be included in the rubric?
This deeper instructional process demands preparation, but it is a front-loaded process. Once the prep work is done a great teacher then magically turns into facilitator, and the students propel the learning process forward from that point.

We no longer live in a textbook world where we simply turn the page, move onto the next unit, and consider the year's curriculum complete if we make it to the right chapter of the book. Life and classrooms have enough surprises even when well-managed and well-planned. So, leave "flying by the seat of your pants" for life's surprises and for the unexpected discoveries that students will make when involved in a channeled learning environment. Great teaching requires thought, planning, and preparation, so we all need to follow the dress code, and "keep your pants on"!

Love to fly by the seat of your pants but think you are a totally awesome teacher???
I have a question for you:
If you don't know what you really want to do, what you really want the kids to take away, what your primary objective is for the day, and how that will be measured.....then how do you measure success?
Of course class was "successful"! After all, you survived and "pulled it off". Congratulations!
Try planning for a change. It is much more difficult to claim success when you have lofty plans! There is suddenly a "teacher rubric" to meet.
If you are awesome now, try planning and be "awesomer"!! Your students will thank you for it!

Monday, February 17, 2014

Lurk and Learn!

Last week someone tweeted out an old blog post from Steven Anderson that I had never seen before, and it was liberating! The post, entitled The Power of the Lurker, expressed what I had believed and shared with my teachers for some time now: it is OK to lurk and learn!

Last year, one of our district technology goals was to get our educators involved in developing a PLN. I created a presentation in which I encouraged everyone to "spy" first. I even gave them a spreadsheet of direct links to chats to get their feet wet before creating a Twitter account.

However, I felt a certain amount of guilt. Was I falling short in getting these teachers fully involved by providing an "easy out"? In the end, I supposed that "those that will, will, and those that won't, won't" be engaged in the social networks that feed this new, fast-paced, ever-changing world of education.
At least they have had a taste and been provided an opportunity..
So, I thank you Steve Anderson!

Below are the slides from my original presentation on getting "SASSY" :

Pictures in these presentation slides are from Phillip Martin.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Share the Technology Love

Remember Valentine's Day when you were young: decorated boxes, little envelopes containing cartoon characters, and oodles of cupcakes and candy! These are an important part of my school memories, and, even though we now have food police and stricter guidelines on "sharing the love", I think it is still important to create lasting, fun imprints of school in the hearts of our children. As a Kindergarten teacher, part of the fun was creating a special Valentine for my students to take home to their loved ones, so I was thrilled to be a part of the "design" team this year for my daughter's Valentine craft!

Since Megan had looped with her Kinder students into 1st grade, she wanted something new and fresh, but due to several days of training, was running out of time to think! Last year, the student card included a picture, and she wanted to do something personal. Yea,  for technology!! I suggested a tiny QR code linked to a student message. This not only adds a touch of technology to the craft, but it also brings parents into using technology as well.

I have always loved QR codes and have used them to send personal voice messages and videos to those I love. Everyone still looks forward to getting real mail, especially children and older folks (my parents are in their 80's), so send that perfect card and add a QR code that personalizes the message. It is like an email card....that comes in the mail.

Create a video on WeVideo.
Create a voice message on a simple site like Vocaroo.
Link to something you want to share with the one you love.
All you need is the URL and a great QR code generator like QRStuff.
Go out and share the technology love!

By the way, here is the final product for Ms. Felty's class:

Include directions for parents on a great app to read the QR code: i-nigma is my favorite, and is available in both iTunes and Google Play.
These student voice messages were stored in a Google site, so, unless kept for perpetuity, they will "expire". To keep the memory "alive", the audio will be sent home to parents at their end of year in the student's personalized digital yearbook.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

"Come on, baby, let's do the twist!"

Getting tired of the same old apps and "projects"? If you need a fresh approach, try using an app you love in a new way. Just give it a "twist"! 

Here is an easy way to get started in just three steps:

  • Take an app you already love and use personally 
  • Ask: how can students "show what they know" by using this app in class?
  • Then actually try it! (This is sometimes the obvious step that teachers are missing.)
In this example, a teacher took Pic Collage ,and students created a collage of pictures that showed different ways to count money. 

Now, let your creative mind sing and dance! What could your students do with Pic Collage?

What's your favorite app? 

Come on, and give it a "twist". and share with your students!
As the song goes..."Take me by my little hand and go like this"!

Thanks to a great teacher, Megan Felty, for sharing her student work with the world. 

And yes, I am biased since she is my daughter! You can visit Mrs. Felty's 1st grade class through her classroom blog.